Fact vs. Falsehood will impact the Operational Environment

By U.S. Army Mad Scientist Initiative, Futures and Concepts CenterJune 4, 2020

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JOINT BASE LANGLEY- EUSTIS, Va. - The U.S. Army’s Mad Scientist Initiative is leading a series of virtual events on Weaponized Information and its impact on competition and conflict. On June 3, 2020, the Mad Scientist Initiative and Georgetown University Center for Security Studies hosted an online discussion featuring Dr. Marek Posard and Dr. Christopher Paul of the RAND Corporation, focusing on Artificial Intelligence and Manufacturing Reality.

According to Posard and Paul, “Weaponized disinformation in the internet era has become cheaper and operable at a much higher scale. This tactic operates as a form of gaslighting, which redefines a victim’s environment and causes them to make suboptimal decisions.”

Posard and Paul argued that media consumers are incredibly vulnerable to the “firehose of falsehood.” They propose that excessive quantities of information, enabled by users with multiple accounts, often outweighs the quality of the information in consumers' perception of the truth. People seek information from people who are "like them," and social media enables bad actors to pose as individuals similar to their target audience.

A first-mover advantage amplifies this in information, whereby media consumers easily absorb false information but are hesitant to accept subsequent refuting arguments. Each of these factors contributes to society's inability to distinguish fact from falsehood.

This problem will become increasingly relevant to the Operational Environment as AI and big data are used to find both increasingly effective messages and more vulnerable audiences. The constant prevalence of misinformation could shift the U.S. media consumer market from a state of trust to a state of mistrust, resulting in structural and societal impacts. The presenters emphasized the collective exhaustion in the assurance structures of society, where people lose the desire to think critically about the information they encounter, even from trusted sources. This trend has the potential to negatively affect the Department of Defense command and control structures and U.S. relations with allies, both of which rely on a state of trust.

The presenters highlighted several ways the social media landscape can change to combat the effectiveness of disinformation, including instituting reporting requirements, identity verification for users, costs for opening accounts, and expanding liability for social media companies. They argued that while increasing media literacy in the U.S. population won't hurt, it will not be a silver bullet.

Rather, they campaigned for a more holistic approach to combatting disinformation by combining technological and societal solutions. This approach should focus on warnings of future disinformation, rather than refuting current falsehoods. It should also focus on exposing disinformation efforts as a whole, rather than highlighting individual falsehoods.

The next event in the Mad Scientist Information Warfare Virtual Series will take place on June 17, 2020. It will feature Georgetown University Student Panels addressing How ISIS uses Social Media in Saudi Arabia and The Effects of De-platforming Bad Actors.